Monday, December 31, 2018

HERE BE NEWS for Dec 31, 2018 - plus 10 New Year Superstitions!

Posted by: Dani Harper, AUTHOR
Wishing you a HAPPY NEW YEAR!
All the latest 
from the authors at 
Here Be Magic
plus 
10 New Year Superstitions

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In Case You Missed It:

Monday, December 24 - 

"HERE BE NEWS" - All the latest from the authors at Here Be Magic.

Thursday, December 27 -

"I HOPE TO GO 3 FOR 3 IN 2019, AND I NEED YOUR SUGGESTIONS!" - Author Linda Mooney is laying out her battle plan for the new year. Also, hear a sample of her audiobook, "Miracle Beyond Measure".

Friday, December 28 -

"LETTING GO, STARTING NEW" - Author Jenny Schwartz discusses how the end of the year is "a time to shake things out of our lives, to free ourselves, and to prepare to embrace the good and the bad that's coming at us."

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10 NEW YEAR SUPERSTITIONS: 



The principle of “What you see is what you get” is practiced all over the world in connection with the advent of New Year. Just for the fun of it, we've gathered a few examples:

1. An age-old ritual is to clean the house by midnight on Dec. 31st to make way for the New Year. Some legends claim that negative energy, along with the disappointments and misfortune of the old year, will be swept away with the dirt and dust.
Image: Bigstock.com

2. If all your pockets and purses and wallets have coins and dollars in them by midnight, it's said that you’ll have plenty of money in the new year. Some people place coins on windowsills and the tops of doors too.

3. If you wear new clothes on New Year’s Day, more new clothes will come your way. (Wouldn't that be fun?)

4. No crying, fighting, arguing, name-calling or general negativity on New Year’s Day or you’ll have strife and tears all year long.

5. Don’t let valuable things leave your house on New Year’s Day or luck and fortune will go with them. The general belief refers to things like money and jewelry, but some people believe that nothing – not even garbage! – should leave the house on New Year’s Day. Take the empties to the recycling bin some other time!

6. Make sure the cupboards and pantries are full on New Year’s Day, in order to ensure abundance the rest of the year.
Image: Bigstock.com

7. In many cultures, what you do for the first hour of the New Year signifies what you’ll do the most of for the next twelve months. (Yikes – does this mean sleeping is a bad idea?)

8. Some believe that all debts should be settled before the New Year. Don’t pay back loans or lend money on New Year’s Day however, or you’ll be paying out all year long.

9. Be particularly careful with the dishes! If anything breaks on New Year’s Day, bad luck is said to follow.

10. Working too hard on New Year’s Day will ensure a year of grueling labor. But if you do a small token task – something related to your employment – successfully, it’ll set the tone for achievement in the coming year. (Some of us will be writing!)

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All of us at Here Be Magic wish you
 a happy and healthy New Year, 
full of warmth and wonder.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Letting Go, Starting New

Posted by: Jenny Schwartz
Readers practice letting go constantly. As the books we're loving reach their end, we farewell beloved characters. They're not forgotten, they don't vanish. The big emotions of the book stay with us as gentle echoes on our soul.


As 2018 comes to an end, I'm glad to see it go, and I'm going to consign a few things to history along with it. The end of the year is a time to shake things out of our lives, to free ourselves, and to prepare to embrace the good and the bad that's coming at us.

"...and they lived happily ever after" is how good fairy tales end. People mock romance novels for ending the same way (or with a happy-for-now). But they miss the point. The happy ending of a novel isn't just an ending. It's the hero/heroine having the strength to start something new. That's what the happy ever after celebrates: the courage of throwing out our old ways of living to embrace new opportunities.

As a romance author, the challenge is to create a protagonist and write them a journey that credibly results in them daring to seize the day. (I watched Dead Poets Society as a teenager - the carpe diem message still resonates with me). Through the book the protagonist has to face problems that grow in difficulty, that ask more of them, and which they conquer. Not always. A perfect character doesn't appeal as much as a flawed one. We know that our failures prepare us for new challenges in ways success can't.

I'm guessing that 2018 held some bad times for you. But the good news is ... you're here. You survived. We survived. The book of the past year is closing, and we're going to write a new one. Who we have been, the people we have lost, the troubles that have crushed us will continue to echo in our souls, but we will move forward.

As complicated, frustrating and unpredictable as life can be, the truth is it's up to us to make 2019 the year we need it to be.

Jenny



Thursday, December 27, 2018

I Hope to Go 3 for 3 in 2019, and I Need Your Suggestions!

Posted by: Linda Mooney
In 2017 and 2018, I made it a personal goal for me as an author. During those years I hoped to A) begin a new series, B) continue a series, and C) end a series. I was able to accomplish it both years. In particular, last year, I began The D'Jacques Dynasty with Lucien, Book 1. I continued with Miracle Beyond Measure, Miracle Book 2. And I ended the Subwoofers series with Specter of the Marsh, Book 5.

This coming year, I hope to go 3 for 3, and do the same thing - begin, continue, and end. And also maybe add another Carolyn Gregg or Gail Smith book in there somewhere.

For those of you who follow me and read my books, is there a particular series you'd like for me to continue or end? Better yet, is there a genre/entity you've got a hankering to read more about?

Let me know! I'm always on the lookout for fresh ideas!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

~~~~~~

Now Available as an Audio Book!

MIRACLE 
Beyond Measure, Book 2 
Paranormal/Supernatural/Contemporary Fantasy Romance
Word Count: 43.1K
$3.99 e / $9.99 p / $14.95 a


Narrated bySusan Marlowe
Length: 4 hrs, 27 min
Hear a Sample



Life on the run is hard. Food is limited, and clothes are difficult to come by, but I’ll keep going. We’ll keep going. We have to. The world is depending on us.

My name is Casi Clarity, and there’s a prophecy that says I will be the one to save the world, along with my protector, Coheed. But we don’t know how, or when, or why. We just will.

Our travels have taken us to New Orleans, where the demons are getting stronger, smarter, and harder to evade. With new allies and enemies alike, who can I trust? Is my protector even who he says he is?

I’m in the fight of my life, with or without Coheed, but fighting without the help of my love is impossible to fathom. I’d rather die myself. But if I did, would I stay dead this time?

My name is Casi.

The undead call me Little Mouse.

Coheed calls me his Miracle.

Warning! Contains a special tea, a trailer in the swamp, deception, bitter cold, a lost testament, a new revelation, and the loss of a loved one that tears the heart apart.

Monday, December 24, 2018

HERE BE NEWS for December 24, 2018

Posted by: Dani Harper, AUTHOR
All the latest 
from the authors at 
Here Be Magic



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In Case You Missed It:

Monday, December 17 - 

"HERE BE NEWS" - All the latest from the authors at Here Be Magic.

Tuesday, December 18 -

"YULE - The ancient traditions live on" - Author Dani Harper writes about Christmas customs we've borrowed from the 12 Days of Yuletide.

Wednesday, December 19 -

"FICTION SAMPLE--RAVEN'S SONG" - Can a reformed dark mage save an opera star from a deadly stalker? Read a sample of Shawna Reppert's story.

Saturday, December 22 - 
This week's Bring It Back(list) feature:  "CHOOSING THE YULE TREE" - A new excerpt from The Holiday Spirit by Dani Harper. See below for details on this Christmas paranormal romance

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Newly Released: 



RAVEN'S SONG
by Shawna Reppert



Can a reformed dark mage save an opera star from a deadly stalker? 


This novella is, if you will, Ravensblood 1.5, set between Ravensblood and Raven's Wing. These urban fantasies are set in an alternate-universe version of the Pacific Northwest, a world of impossible choices where sometimes death magic is the lesser of the evils. 


Raven's pardon and return still feel very new to him, and his attempts to find his footing again in the Three Communities are both helped and hindered by a GII agent who neither likes nor trusts him, but still needs his help.


This novella was originally published as part of Here Be Magic, a multi-author anthology which is no longer available for sale.

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Bring It Back(list) Feature:



Full-length novel in Kindle ebook or paperback

THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT
by Dani Harper
Haunted Holiday Book 1

COUNSELING GHOSTS DOESN'T LEAVE ROOM FOR A LOVE LIFE...

Shopping for Christmas, author Kerri Tollbrook is more annoyed than startled when a ghost tells her a gift she's about to buy will end up in the nearest donation bin. He's right, and well... gorgeous with those haunted brown eyes and self-assured bearing. Unlike most men, he's not afraid of her unusual gift. And the connection she feels surprises her. But even she can't date a dead man.


INVISIBLE FOR A YEAR...

Firefighter Galen McAllister is stunned the petite redhead can see and hear him. It feels almost normal to talk to another human again, but if things were truly normal, he'd alread be asking her out. The woman is a triple threat – smart, funny, pretty, even if she's insisting he needs to "cross over". He can't, not after an ancient evil ripped him away from his body. And he refuses to leave as long as the creature is free to do the same to others.

A RITUAL TO PURGE EVIL...

There's no time to kiss under the mistletoe. The demon with a taste for human life force is coming back for a final feast. Helping ghosts is one thing, but Kerri is determined to banish the monster by any means necessary, even if Galen only wants enough "answers" to help him take the demon down himself.


She can't let Galen die for real. He can't bear to put Kerri in the creature's path. But if they don't work together on this, they aren't the only ones who will die just in time for Christmas.

Excerpt:  https://herebemagic.blogspot.com/2018/12/choosing-yule-tree-excerpt-from-holiday.html

Purchase on Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/DP/B013Z0F31M 

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Sales, Contests and Events:



Our authors often take part in hosted giveaways and events, or sponsor their own.
Here's the latest! 
...


EBOOKS ON SALE UNTIL DEC. 31st.
December Ebook Sale

THE GRIM SERIES
Fantasy Romance, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy

by DANI HARPER

The fae are cunning, powerful and often cruel.

The most beautiful among them are often the most deadly. Hidden far beneath the mortal world, the timeless faery realm plays by its own rules—and those rules can change on a whim. Now and again, the unpredictable residents of that mystical land cross the supernatural threshold…

In this enchanting romance series from Dani Harper, the ancient fae come face-to-face with modern-day humans and discover something far more potent than their strongest magic: love.


Book 1 STORM WARRIOR is now $1.99 
plus just 99¢ each for 

Sale runs until December 31st, 2018

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Saturday, December 22, 2018

CHOOSING THE YULE TREE - an excerpt from The Holiday Spirit by Dani Harper

Posted by: Dani Harper, AUTHOR
This full-length novel is Book 1
of the Haunted Holiday Series 

Bring It Back(list) Feature:

An excerpt from
The Holiday Spirit,
a paranormal romance 
by Dani Harper


Her backpack swung from one shoulder as they trudged through the snow. In reality, she did all the trudging. Galen was unimpeded by the drifted trails, and had insisted on carrying the saw “for safety’s sake.” He pointed out the merits of potential trees along the way, but none of them felt right to her.

Thirty minutes later he asked: “Are you sure you’re not just being picky? Because that last fir was a beauty. A perfect pyramid, and not a single bare spot anywhere.”

“I know, but it’s not appearance that counts.”

“Yeah, well, time counts. I don’t want you out here too long. You need to rest.”

“Hey, Mr. Bossypants, some things can’t be rushed!”

“See? Now you’re cranky.”

It was on the tip of her tongue to deny it, when she realized how childish that would sound—and how right he was. Good grief. Instead, she took a deep breath and explained: “I’m looking for something special, a tree that calls out to me because it knows that we need it.”

Galen stopped in his tracks. “You talk about them like they’re aware.”

“They are.” She waved a hand at the forest around them. “All the trees are. In fact, most things are to some degree.”

 “Sooo…you’re not looking for a perfect tree, you’re looking for a volunteer?”

"We’re not walking up to 
just any old tree and taking it." 
Image: Bigstock.com
“You could put it that way. We’re not walking up to just any old tree and taking it. The tree is offering up its life freely, so we can observe the Solstice.” She expected Galen to ask more questions but although his eyebrows lifted slightly, he simply motioned for her to carry on. Does that mean he’s beginning to understand? That he feels more comfortable with magic and able to trust it? With her luck, he’d probably concluded that she was crazy, and he should just humor her.

Kerri pushed all of that out of her mind and focused. Around her, the air was clear and cold, refreshing rather than uncomfortable. The snow alternately sparkled in the sun and cast blue shadows. Here and there were the footprints of many birds, a rabbit, and three or four deer. It was peaceful, and she allowed that peace to seep into her… It was only a few minutes later that she felt a faint vibration, one that barely skimmed the edges of her awareness. Following it, she worked her way around a prickly thicket of wild rose bushes and came upon its source.

“You gotta be kidding me,” said Galen.

“Shh.” Kerri pulled off a glove and gently touched the evergreen branches. The soundless thrum of life was in the boughs, slowed by the winter cold. But was there something more? “We need your help,” she whispered to the tree. In her mind’s eye, she saw the silvery wisp of energy even as she felt it flow softly over her fingers. “Thank you,” she breathed.

It was big—and the damnedest ugliest tree Galen had ever seen. Outside of being some kind of short-needled evergreen, it couldn’t look less like a holiday decoration. There were ragged cones still dangling from the boughs and at least three old bird nests inside it. No shortage of bare spots, more than a few dead twigs and branches, plus near its base a big swatch of bark had been charred from some long-ago fire. 

The oddest thing was its trunk, however. It divided into a nearly perfect U halfway up, resulting in a pair of crowns instead of one. Great, a two-headed tree, Galen thought. Where the hell do you put the star? The guys at the station would have razzed him for the rest of his natural life if he’d brought in something like this. Even Charlie Brown wouldn’t pick this tree. Hell, Frankenstein wouldn’t choose it.

But Kerri loved it, and that was all that mattered. He didn’t understand everything she’d explained about Yule and the Solstice, but if she said it was important, then he trusted that it was. Because of her, he’d been introduced to a wider world, one that he had never known existed outside of old fairy tales and fantasy novels. He watched from a respectful distance as she cast a large circle around the tree, not with salt or sword, but with birdseed, alfalfa cubes, and dried apple slices as a gift to the wildlife that lived here. Finally, she addressed the tree itself:

“Forest tree touched by water and fire, 
Please shed your light on darkness dire. 
Forest tree touched by earth and air, 
We ask you for your life to share. 
Still evergreen despite your scars, 
Please merge your energy with ours. 
This time when day wins over night 
Loan us your strength to win our fight.” 

She nodded to Galen and he entered the circle, placing the saw at the base of the tree. He felt something then—a strange expectancy as if the tree was, indeed, patiently waiting for the cut. Outside the circle, he could see that Kerri was occupied with getting something else out of her pack, so Galen took a moment to whisper to the tree. “Sorry to do this, bud and I sure hope it doesn’t hurt much,” he said. “But we really need the help, and she says you’re the one. So, thank you. And I promise I’ll do my damnedest to make you the best-looking tree on the block.”
 
When the deed was done, Kerri was holding a small spade and a handful of weird beige sticks the size of carrots. “What on earth are those?” he asked.  

 "New life always wins out over death..."
Image: Bigstock.com
“Fertilizer stakes. I’m burying them within the circle. The roots of this tree are strong, and they’ll send up shoots in the spring,” she said. “In the balance of things, new life always wins out over death. Just like today, when the year rolls around from darkness to light.”

He turned those words over in his mind as he watched her go about her task. Thought about them the whole time they walked back to the car, and during the process of carefully bundling the tree with a roll of burlap. It was even bigger and more awkward than it looked, and it was a job and a half to make it as narrow as possible for the trip home. Finally, they tied—and then retied—the tree securely onto the car roof rack. Their prize dwarfed the little red vehicle of course, but it was balanced enough to be safe.  Balance. In the balance of things, new life always wins out over death… 

When Kerri reached for the door of the car, Galen put his hand over hers. “Kerri, we really need to talk. If anything happens to me—”

“Don’t,” she said. “We can’t think that way.”

“Hey, I’m all for being positive, but we can’t shy away from the truth either. When I first came to the station, one of the older guys on the crew, Art Peters, told me two things—that you need to live each day like it was your last, and especially that you have to tell the people you care about what you want them to know. It was something I’d already learned from my mom. She was upfront about dying, and it freed us both to say the things we needed to, so that when she was gone, there were no loose ends, and no regrets for either of us.

“So now I need to say some things and I need you to hear them.”

Kerri studied the ground for a long moment, then nodded. “All right, Galen. I’m listening.”

Harper, Dani. THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT (Haunted Holiday Book 1) (pp. 174-178 Kindle Edition). 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


(Haunted Holiday Book 1) 
by Dani Harper
  • “An excellent combination of sizzle and emotion.” NIGHT OWL REVIEWS
  • " Absolutely one of the most memorable stories I've read.." JUST LOVE MY BOOKS
  • "Action, adventure, and a whole lot of love inside." REDZ WORLD
  • “One of my top ten holiday romances ever.” READING BETWEEN THE WINES
  • Named a Book of the Week by BOOKWORKS
Available as an ebook or a paperback at

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Fiction sample--Raven's Song

Posted by: Shawna Reppert

Raven's Song is a gripping, suspenseful novella set between the first and second novels of my Ravensblood series. It was part of an Amazon bestselling multi-author anthology which is no longer available. I've recently released it as a stand-alone available on Amazon, but first try a sample below!

 



Raven’s fingers on the keys found all the right notes, but still the music was wrong. Mechanical. Because he was still thinking of each note, instead of the flow of the piece.
Damn. He took his hands from the keys, forced a deep breath. Bach’s thirteenth invention was a tricky little beast—the man had written it to put his children through their paces, after all, but he had written it for his children. Raven could play the piece, flawlessly and with feeling, and without conscious thought, when he was in General Academy.
The steady click-click of the metronome he had turned to in his desperation mocked him.
Relax, and it will go better. What did it matter, if it took him a while to get his playing back to where it once had been? He had no aspirations of playing professionally, nor even of performing. He played to amuse himself; what matter if the notes didn’t quite add up to the music?
Because he used to be good, damn it. And all the lost years ate at him.
It’s the same as the magic. You know what you’re doing. Just let your fingers find the notes, and let the music take you.
He switched off the metronome, put his hands to the keys and tried again. Eyes half-closed, he breathed with the piece, and at last found the music in the notes. Finally, the tune took over, came alive, moved like the breath of the world. His soul swelled in his chest.
The message crystal flashed.
Red.
He missed a note and the flow of the music collapsed. Damn.
Cassandra. She was out on a case. Had something happened?
He leapt from the piano bench, crossed the room in three long strides, and tapped the crystal to open communication. “This is Raven.”
“Mr. Ravenscroft, this is Greg Davison. One of Cassandra’s colleagues.”
“Has something happened to Cassandra?” Raven cut in.
“Not that I heard of, no.” The voice sounded vaguely puzzled by the question. Clearly the man hadn’t thought through the implications of a red-flashing message crystal and a call from the work associates of one’s lover. “Maybe Cassandra mentioned me?” the voice asked hopefully.
“Not that I recall, no.” This had better be important. Raven made his voice deliberately cold and intimidating.
His lover might be a GII agent, but that didn’t mean he felt particularly friendly to Guardians in general. Not after days he'd spent in interrogation before the Council finally decided to make good on the pardon they’d promised. Keeping that promise had nearly cost him his life.
Cassandra’s colleagues were nothing more than names on files that she brought home, at first surreptitiously and then with increasing openness, when the other agents asked her to get his take on some crime of magic that had them stumped. His lip curled. They might not trust him, but they were certainly willing to use his expertise.
“Um, yes, well, I’m a colleague of Cassandra’s,” the stranger said again.
Nervous. Frightened of the fearsome dark mage? He frowned. No, no fear in Davison’s voice. Discomfort, though.
“Look, there’s this case I’m working on. I admit I’ve hit a dead end on it.”
This was his idea of 'urgent'? His frown deepened to a scowl. If the Guardians had wanted his services on a full-time basis, they had had their chance years ago. “Send the file home with Cassandra when she gets back. If it interests me, I’ll give you my thoughts.” He reached to terminate the communication.
“It can’t wait until Cass gets back. Look, can you just meet me in my office?”
Warning bells went off. He wouldn’t walk into a building full of Guardians, not even for Cassandra. “No.” The word came out flat and cold. "If it can’t wait, then you’ll just have to figure out how to do your job without me. GII muddled along just fine without me in the years I was in William’s service.”
There. The stark reminder of who and what he had been should send the stranger skittering away like a rabbit beneath a hawk’s shadow. Smirking, he waited for the message crystal to go dark so he could get back to Bach's Inventions.
 “Damn you." The voice was exasperated now. "A woman’s life is at stake! Or are you still enough of a dark mage that that doesn’t matter to you?”
He almost snorted. Oh, yes, insults were going to make him that much more inclined to work with this Guardian. He reached out to tap the crystal and break the connection—
“I’m sorry.” The voice was softer, abashed. “I shouldn’t have said that.” The sound of a deep breath. “Look, I can understand how a single Mundane opera star wouldn’t seem particularly important—”
Raven cut him off. “Who?”
He had read something about a stalker, hadn’t paid much attention to the particulars. He’d dismissed it as an overly-zealous fan, but if GII had gotten involved. . .
“Madeline Love. I’m sure you’ve probably never heard of her—”
“I won’t come in to GII.” For a moment, he considered testing Davison’s resolve by suggesting that they meet at one of the posh uptown restaurants that would strain a Guardian’s paycheck, but Cassandra would not be amused if she heard about it. “There is a pub on the corner of Northwest Glisan and Twenty-first. The Blue Moon. Do you know it?”
“Not well enough to teleport, but I can borrow my wife’s car.”
He wondered if Davison was in a mixed marriage. Few mages owned automobiles. For that matter, few even learned to drive. Did Davison even have a license?
That was the Guardian’s problem. “Can you be there in an hour?” Raven asked.
“Yeah, I think. Traffic should have cleared by now.”
Cass had dragged Raven to the Blue Moon often enough that he could teleport to the sidewalk outside without difficulty. That gave him nearly an hour before he had to leave. He didn’t think his mind was going to settle back into the Bach.
He turned on the stereo—one of the few pieces of Mundane technology he had any use for—and traced a finger along the backs of his well-ordered CDs until he found one featuring Madeline’s arias, and let himself be transported by her voice until it was time to leave.
This late in winter, the sky was full dark by this time of the evening. It was a weeknight, and so the sidewalks held few shoppers when he faded back into being in front of the pub and stepped through the glass door of the Blue Moon. Dark wood made the interior rather more elegant than most pubs. Soft jazz played on the sound system. Not the classical music he preferred, but several steps above the jarring noise of modern pop that blared in so many places. The pool tables stood empty, but the fire in the central brazier had been lit long enough to have built to a healthy blaze.
An inquiry with the hostess confirmed that no one had asked for him yet. He selected a table in a corner with the view of the door and draped his long, black wool coat over the back of the seat. When the waiter came, a neatly-dressed and pleasant-faced young man saved from blandness by the emerald stud in one ear, Raven asked for a glass of Fireside port. He’d considered the house brandy, but he’d do better to keep his wits about him when dealing with GII. While he had no reason to expect trouble—his pardon was ironclad and he had done nothing since William’s fall to give further cause for arrest—he had little trust for Guardians, local or GII.
He had finished his port and was contemplating a second glass when the opening of the door caught his attention. For a moment, his breath caught. Blond hair, pale coloring…He relaxed and laughed silently at himself. Not William, after all. Not William, William was dead, had to be dead, even if they had never found the body. This stranger with the open face and the pleasant smile was a far cry from William. The hostess pointed him to Raven’s table, and his smile broadened as he thanked her with a slight bow.
Davison, for the stranger had to be Davison, then turned and approached Raven’s table. His gaze locked with Raven’s and his face hardened, his mouth thinning into a resolute, stiff line. All of Raven’s sense that he might actually like this Guardian fled. Clearly, to Davison, he was still a dark mage. No matter that Davison had asked for this meeting. No matter that he had asked for Raven’s help, that Raven had come when he could be enjoying a nice, quiet evening with Bach.
 “Mr. Ravenscroft?" He stopped at the table. "I’m Greg Davison with GII.”
Raven rose to his feet and deliberately held out his hand. Davison waited a long moment before taking it. Raven gave him an ironic smile, making it clear he recognized Davison’s distaste and found it amusing.
“Please, sit.” Raven gestured at the table's empty seat.
Davison did so, stiffness in his every motion.
The waiter came over to their table immediately; either things were really that slow or he remembered that Raven tipped generously. People had no problems dealing with a Ravenscroft when it came to cold commerce. Gods bless greed. He smiled thinly.
He went ahead and ordered a second glass of the port. Davison, after glancing at the menu, ordered White Rabbit, the house white wine.
“Will this be on one check or two, gentlemen?” the waiter asked.
“I’ll take care of it,” Raven said.
“Separate checks, please,” Davison said firmly.
The waiter looked from one to the other.
Raven shrugged. “Separate checks, then.” He turned his eyes on Davison. “You asked for my help.”
Satisfying to see the man across from him squirm.
“Ms. Love is being stalked,” Davison said. “We know the stalker is from the Art community.”
“How?” Raven interrupted.
“Several of the incidents could only have been carried out by a mage. Words were burned into her bedroom wall while she was out. Forensics confirmed it could only have been firewriting.”
“So unless he has a mage helping him—”
“Unlikely, since the profile says he’s almost certainly a loner.”
Raven inclined his head,. “So firewriting says he has at least a final-year General Academy level of training, or its equivalent. Magical signature?”
“Doesn’t match any of the staff. When we could, we brought in the Guardians that have worked on cases involving known sexual predators, but none of them recognized the signature. The Mundanes were out with their fingerprint kits, but all the prints they found matched someone with a valid reason to be there.” He shook his head. “We had to get prints from quite a few handsome young men to eliminate them from the roster of potential suspects. Opera divas must live quite the life.”
“Ms. Love is both lovely and talented,” Raven said stiffly. “Why shouldn’t she entertain her male admirers if she chooses?”
Davison took a sip of his wine. “I suppose. Outside my experience. I’m more a marriage-and-family sort of man.”
“So all you know is that the stalker is a mage with at least the talent of a last-year General Academy student. Or a younger prodigy. I could firewrite by the middle of my second year.”
Was it his imagination, or did Davison flinch just a bit at the reminder of who he was dealing with? Raven smiled.
“We also know that he’s smart enough to wear gloves. Narrows the field more than you might think.” Davison said. “There’s also some indication that he’s a bit more than the average mage.”
“Beyond the fact that he seems perfectly capable of running circles around you?” Raven couldn’t resist the barb.
“Beyond that, yes,” Davison answered mildly, though anger flashed in his eyes. “The magical signature seems strange. Muddled.”
“Deliberately?”
An educated guess based on context, though he wasn’t ready to admit as much. Raven hadn’t known that such a magic existed, but new spells and charms were being created every year. While he’d learned things from both William and the Ravenscroft journal that would leave this Guardian stunned as well as appalled, some of the newer magics, especially those confidential or classified, would have gone under his radar. Still, the Ravensblood had been able to hide his signature entirely, so logically, other magic might have been developed that at least obscured the magical signature.
Davison shrugged. “Not sure. Quite probably. If it’s intentional, and not some weird anomaly of this man’s magic, it does narrow the field quite a bit.”
Raven leaned forward. “You said ‘this man’. You have some evidence of gender?”
“Statistical probability. Had to choose a pronoun, and ‘it’ wouldn’t be very professional.” He bared his teeth in a grin. “No matter how tempting, or otherwise a propos.”
Raven raised his glass in a toast of agreement before taking a sip of port.
“So, assuming intention for the moment,” Davison continued. “That would leave us with certain high-level GII agents in undercover and counter-espionage, and quite probably a handful of dark mages.”
“Why dark mages in particular? The magic doesn’t seem inherently evil.”
“Who else would want to obscure what they do with magic?”
“I can think of a few off the top of my head,” Raven said. “From a wife planning a surprise birthday party for her husband to pranking schoolchildren. Or your stalker, who has been terrorizing a lovely and talented woman using, so far as you have told me to this point, no magic that has been specifically classified as dark.”
Davison frowned in disapproval. “So you believe that no magic is inherently dark? Nothing should be banned outright? Do you believe that even death magic has its place?”
He closed his eyes briefly. A knife in his hand, a fountain of blood, the rush of death feeding his power…Raven’s stomach lurched. Even Cassandra had accepted that he had no choice, had forgiven him her cousin’s death. And still he had nightmares about Andy Burns’s blood on his hands. “If you brought me down here to debate the question of good and evil as it relates to various types of magic, I have more interesting problems awaiting me at home.” Raven gathered up his coat and stood, looking around for the waiter so he could signal for the check.
“You changed your mind about helping when I named the woman who was being stalked,” Davison said, desperation in his voice. “Whatever she is to you, she is in danger.”
Raven closed his eyes, seeing in his memory a dark-haired woman in the spotlight of an opera stage and a voice that moved even the most jaded to tears.
He sat back down. “So tell me the facts of the case then, and stop wasting my time.”
“According to Ms. Love, it started about a year ago,” Davison said. “Just letters, at first. She dismissed it as just some avid fan with an over-active imagination.”
“Was there a name signed to the letters?”
“He signed them as ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ ”
“Clever,” Raven said drily. “I take it that it went beyond letters, or GII would not be involved.”
“Valentine’s Day last year, she came home to find rose petals scattered on her balcony. Spring Equinox it was a replica stone age fertility symbol in her foyer. A basket of candy for Eoster with an article on the aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate that had been clipped out of a news magazine.”
“Didn’t she have a security system?” Raven asked.
“Set to body heat, same as the Council Museum. I understand you know how easily they can be circumvented.” Davison flashed an ironic smile.
“I wouldn’t say it was easy, exactly, but yes, I know how it can be done.” Raven’s involvement in the theft of the Mariner’s Crown was a matter of public record; no point in obfuscation.
“Beltane brought a fairly graphic depiction of a ritualized sex act done in fire writing on the dining room wall. At that point Ms. Love bought trained guard dogs from a reputable kennel and installed security cameras. That brought a reprieve that lasted through the solstice.”
Raven took a sip of port. “A reprieve of incidents only, or did the letters stop as well?”
“The letters continued, and became more graphic and disturbing. The author made it clear that he resented the dogs, and some of the letters accused Miss Love of, er, inappropriate behavior with canines.” Davison glanced down at his wine, flushing pink.
Raven let the pause continue a moment, enjoying the man’s discomfiture even as anger rose at the slander to the lady. “You said that the reprieve lasted through the solstice. I take it the incidents picked up again?”
Davison nodded. “Two days before Lughnasa, Miss Love woke to find the guard dogs dead and the security cameras disabled. On the center of the dining room table her stalker had left a red glass sculpture in the shape of a flame, everspelled to glow like a light bulb, with a note that said “All is forgiven. I burn for you.”
“All is forgiven?” Raven asked. “Doesn’t that imply some sort of a previous relationship?”
Davison shook his head. “Not necessarily. The connection could very well be entirely in the stalker’s mind. He could be forgiving her for, in his twisted view, playing hard to get, or for acquiring dogs to keep him out.”
Raven blew out a long breath. He’d seen all manner of insanity in his years with William, but this was a whole new kind of crazy.
“At that point, she hired bodyguards. She first called in an agency recommended by the Mundane cops. Why they waited so long to bring in Guardians. . .” Davison shook his head.
Raven smiled despite himself, remembering Cass’s rants on the lack of cooperation between Mundane police and Guardians, and between the local Guardians and GII.
“In September, Miss Love went on tour to Europe, very much looking forward to a reprieve from the attentions of her rabid admirer.”
“No such luck?” Raven guessed.
Davison shook his head grimly. “Labor Day, she came back to her hotel in London to find a full wardrobe of maternity clothes arranged in her suite, with a note saying that by that time next year, she would be pregnant with his child.”
Raven shuddered.
“Samhain in Sydney, her dressing room was decorated with bloody skeletons—“
“Skeletons?” Raven was aghast.
“Well, the plastic kind, like you would buy at a party store,” Davison amended quickly. “Still, grim enough, especially accompanied by a note describing the fate of her paramours if she didn’t cease, his words, ‘cheating’ on him.”
Raven tasted bile in the back of his throat. For an innocent woman to be tormented this way, her only ‘crime’ the beauty she brought into the world, was unthinkable. Mentally going through the holidays in order, he asked “Yule? Christmas?”
“In the days between the two holidays. The security guards she hired to protect her home were rendered unconscious—we’re still trying to figure out how, exactly. A display was left on the makeup table in the dressing room that adjoins her bedroom, a confused mish-mash of the two traditions, something like a crèche, but with symbolic references to the Earth Mother birthing the Sun God." He grimaced. “It seemed less a bid for the all-one-god traditions, more a muddle of dubious theology, with a note that seemed to suggest that he saw himself as the Sun God—son and consort and king.”
“I take it, not in the metaphorical sense of all-of-us-carry-divinity-within?”
Davison looked at him in surprise. “You studied Craft lore?”
Raven shrugged one shoulder. “ ‘Studied’ is probably too strong a term. But Mother Crone has been a friend to me on occasion, and one picks up things.”
Davison cocked his head slightly, as if trying to reconcile this new information with his preconceptions. Gods, even William’s knowledge was broader than 101 variations on death magic.
“Anyway,” Davison continued. “The letter was a frightening collection of delusion and weird religious references. The gist of it seems to be that he considers himself a god, or a demi-god. Something above mortal man, at any rate. And that Ms. Love would be going against the divine plan if she refuses to—his words—mate with him and bear his young.”
Raven took a long swallow of his port. “And here I thought I was done with narcissistic megalomaniacs.”
Davison swallowed, his expression sour. “It would be nice if William were the only twisted bastard out to control and dominate through fear, but in my job we deal with that kind every day. I don’t think William was necessarily even the sickest, just the most dangerous.”
Raven couldn’t dispute that; he’d seen enough in the case files GII sent him discretely through Cassandra when they were particularly stuck. “From what you have told me so far, the man’s magical strength may be only average or slightly above average, although he does seem possessed of some very particular knowledge regarding certain techniques.”
“Or he could be holding back to keep us guessing,” Davison said.
Raven cocked his head. “Why would he do that?”
Davison shrugged. “He seems to be playing games, toying with us as well as with Ms. Love. He’s sent us a few messages as well.”
“Oh?”
“Left a half-mask like the one from Phantom on my desk.”
Raven shivered at the thought. “I don’t know if I could circumvent GII security. What is this man?”
“That’s what we’d like you to help us find out.”
“How can I help you?”
“Well, I had a dim hope that the bastard’s MO might remind you of one of your former associates that might have escaped William’s fall.”
Raven shook his head. “Sorry to disappoint. Most of the dark mages I knew were far more direct. William sometimes enjoyed convoluted schemes, but stalking really isn’t his style.” In fact, stalking was one of the few crimes he felt fairly certain William would draw the line at, but that wasn’t the sort of thing he would mention to a Guardian.
“As I said, it was a small hope.” Davison flashed an ingratiating smile. “I was rather more hoping that you might have a look at Miss Love’s security system to see if you can figure out how he’s foiling it. See if you can help us figure out how to stop him, or even better, catch him.”
Raven inclined his head. It seemed like a small enough thing to do, to help someone who had brought so much beauty into the world. It would be odd, working so directly with Guardians, and yet oddly like the dreams of his youth, when he wanted to be a Guardian.
But then Davison leaned in, looking at him intently. “I’m curious, though. You were reluctant to help until I mentioned Miss Love’s name. Is there a connection there I should know about?”
“Only a deep admiration for opera in general and Miss Love’s work in particular. I saw her sing in La Boheme at the Portland Opera. She was a true virtuoso.”
It had been the first event, other than Zack MacLean’s funeral, that had drawn him so far out of the reclusive habits he had adopted since his pardon. And it had been worth it.
“I see. And I understand that you are known for your innovative spellwork.”
Any slight bonhomie he had begun to feel fled. “Just what are you insinuating?”
“Only that our stalker is an opera aficionado and clever in his magic.” Davison flashed him a mock-innocent smile.
Raven finished his port, feigning insouciance, though the words struck him through like spell-lightning. “Much as I admire Miss Love, she is hardly my type.”
“Really?” Davison gave a quick, mocking grin, as he swirled his wine. “Because some mages go for Mundane women. They like the feeling of being more powerful.”
Raven answered Davison grin with a slow, dark smile. “Is that why you chose your wife?”
Davison slammed down his glass so hard that wine sloshed on the table. He half-stood, flushing. “How dare you!”
Raven maintained a relaxed façade, although he focused his will to strengthening his shields. He wouldn’t start anything, but damned if he wouldn’t finish it. Reckless, since there were many desperate to see his pardon revoked. His lawyer would make a most eloquent case for self-defense, if only to have the opportunity to strangle Raven himself.
 “How dare I?" He lifted his chin. “How dare you drag a civilian out under false pretenses in order to subject me to accusations with no foundations whatsoever? If the fact that I am in a committed relationship with one of your colleagues doesn’t weigh in your considerations, let me point out that, at the time the stalking began, I was busy risking my life spying for the Council in William’s sanctuary. And on the Spring Equinox, I couldn’t have possibly been breaking in to Miss Love’s home, as I was engaged in a duel to the death with the most powerful dark mage of our time. And then I was taken into custody for my troubles.
“I should point out, since GII is clearly too dim to figure it out, that no true aficionado of opera would ever mistake Andrew Lloyd Webber’s popular fluff for true opera, and so no true aficionado would try to impress a singer he was courting by signing his letters ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ ” He raised one eyebrow. "Since I understand from news articles on the opera scene that Miss Love appeared in a commercial for Jaguar that appeared not long before the stalking incidents began, I suggest that, instead of confining your investigation to opera-goers, you expand it to anyone who had access to Mundane television during the period that the commercial aired.”
Raven stood then, took out his wallet, and threw down enough bills to cover both his port and Davison’s wine, plus a generous tip. If Davison insisted on paying for his own check, then the waiter would just get an even larger tip. He deserved it, anyway, for having to put up with a Guardian and a former dark mage causing a scene in his section.
“If you have any further questions for me, you can channel them through my lawyer.” He dropped the business card of Alexander Chen, attorney at law, in Davison’s lap and stalked for the door, pulling on his coat as he went.
“No, wait, please!” Davison rose to his feet but had the good sense not to attempt to follow. “For Ms. Love’s sake—”
Raven paused for a moment, then kept walking.


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